The 182-metre Statue of Unity was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October last year.
Tribals living near the Statue of Unity, a memorial to Sardar Patel in Gujarat’s Kevadiya district, on Tuesday claimed the state government was “snatching their ancestral land” for tourism projects despite a High Court order to maintain status quo.
Addressing a press conference with several aggrieved tribals from six villages, former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta said the BJP government in the state had also backtracked on promises to provide jobs or alternate land to project affected people.
Mr Mehta is associated with ”Lokshahi Bachao Andolan”, an umbrella outfit of social activists.
“The state government had promised that for every person evicted, seven would be given jobs. But nothing of the sort has happened,” he said.
One of the activists, Pravinsinh Jadeja, claimed only private players benefited from the Statue of Unity project.
“Despite the Gujarat High Court ordering a stay on land acquisition, tribals are being forcibly evicted. Tribals are not against the Statue of Unity but are protesting illegal land acquisition in the name of tourism. Tribals must be given jobs if the government wants to acquire their lands,” said Mr Jadeja.
Tribals claimed projects near the Statue of Unity were affecting 8,000 persons from Navagam, Kevadiya, Gora, Limbdi, Vagadiya and Kothi, and alleged that government had not paid compensation.
Villager Ramkrishna Tadvi said officials ran a bulldozer on standing crops in his field, while another, Shakuntala Tadvi of Kevadiya village said, despite assurances from the government, her sons still have no jobs.
She said police was a constant presence in the area and excavators were deployed at night for construction activities.
However, Gujarat Tribal Development Minister Ganpat Vasava rubbished the allegations and said the state government had paid Rs. 7.50 lakh per hectare as compensation in the six villages.
“We follow all rules and regulations while acquiring land. We will also give a residential plot of 300 square metres for free to each affected person. The adult son of each family will be given Rs. 5 lakh for self-employment,” Mr Vasava told reporters in Surat.
Mr Vasava said 70 tribal youth had been given jobs as guides at the ”jungle safari” established near the memorial.
In an apparent reference to Mr Mehta, the Gujarat minister said some “sidelined leaders” and NGOs were using tribals to play politics and defame the Narmada project.
The 182-metre Statue of Unity, the tallest such structure in the world, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October last year and has gone on to become the state”s primary tourist magnet, leading to the government announcing more projects in the vicinity to attract footfalls.